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'American Sniper' Trial Opens In Texas

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We move to Texas now and the trial of the man charged with murdering former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Kyle is the subject of the movie "American Sniper." He and a friend were killed at a gun range two years ago. Former Marine Corporal Eddie Routh confessed to the killings but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. NPR's Wade Goodwyn was in court today and has this report.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: It is perhaps the biggest trial in Stephenville history. The courthouse this morning was packed with reporters and local citizens. In his opening statement, Eddie Routh's defense attorney Tim Moore painted the portrait of a veteran quickly spiraling into insanity. In the months leading up to the murders, the former Marine was repeatedly taken to the VA and psychiatric hospitals in Dallas. He was diagnosed as psychotic and delusional and a threat to himself and those around him. He was prescribed a variety of antipsychotics, which failed to stem the tide of Routh's mental illness. Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sniper made famous in a book and a recent movie, took Eddie Routh out for a day of fun at the shooting range. When Routh took their lives, he was in the grip of a psychosis so severe, he did not realize what he was doing was wrong, defense lawyer Tim Moore told the jury this morning, describing how his client believed Kyle and Littlefield had driven him two hours to a rural shooting range in order to kill him. Moore explained, he thought it was either them or him - that he had to take their lives or they were going to take his. As Kyle and Littlefield drove to the gun range with Routh sitting in the back seat, they began to realize that Routh was both not right and perhaps dangerous. Kyle texted Littlefield as they sat together in the front seat, this dude is straight up nuts. Littlefield texted back, he's sitting right behind me, watch my six. The texts were their last recorded communication. The prosecution painted a very different picture. District Attorney Alan Nash told the jury a story of a young murderer whose actions betrayed the fact that he knew what he was doing was wrong. The key evidence will guide you on two critical issues - did he intentionally cause the death of these two men, and did he know what he was doing was wrong, Nash said, speaking of the accused. When he shot, it was intentional and knowing. Nash described an assailant who was calculating, shooting Kyle first because he knew Kyle was a veteran Navy SEAL. It was an ambush. Kyle and Littlefield were shot multiple times in the back and then in the head. Routh then took Kyle's gun, a replica of the pistol he used as a SEAL team member, carefully reloading it and then making his escape in Kyle's pickup truck as his victims lay dying. Speaking to the standard of legal insanity in Texas, District Attorney Nash summed up, in spite of the evidence of mental illness, the evidence will also show that Routh knew that what he was doing was wrong. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News Stephenville, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.